It ain’t easy being a Chicago political boss these days.
Just ask Joe Berrios, the supposed leader of the party that dominates Cook County.
Berrios expected each committeeman from Chicago’s 50 wards and the 30 suburban Cook townships to “buy a table” at the county Democratic Party fundraiser on Oct. 13.
Some have not done their share, prompting a terse letter from county party headquarters.
In an email obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, a top Berrios aide comes off sounding more like the Nicor collections department than a political boss’ enforcer.
“You are receiving this notice because you did not support our 10/13 fundraiser by purchasing any tickets,” wrote Jacob Kaplan, the county Democrats’ executive director. “The Chairman asked all committeemen to support the event by purchasing 10 tickets (at $200 each).”
I talked to one committeeman who’s openly bucking Boss Berrios and three others who said they were withholding payment to the party but didn’t want to be publicly identified.
Berrios is threatening to out the scofflaws at Friday’s meeting of party brass at the Erie Cafe, a Near North Side restaurant where the chairman’s own political funds have dropped more than $70,000 in the last few years.
Kaplan warned the committeemen: “A report on the October fundraiser will be produced at our committeemen pre-election meeting next Friday (10/28) at Erie Cafe. Several committeemen have requested a list of committeemen who have not supported the party’s October fundraiser. If you do not want to be on this list, please reply and let us know how many tickets you will be sending a check into the party for.”
Kaplan would not name the committeemen who have not complied with the boss’ fundraising request. Nor would he tell me which of the nice committeemen requested a list of the naughty.
“There’s about 15 or so holdouts,” Kaplan said Tuesday. “Some [contributions] may come in by Friday.”
Kaplan acknowledged that “it’s not like the old days,” when a Cook County Democratic boss such as Dick Daley could growl an order and every committeeman would heel instantly.
“We just ask everybody to contribute something they can afford, even if it’s just one ticket, to share the burden of keeping the party going,” Kaplan said.
Many committeemen already paid their share, or even gave much more than what was sought, according to campaign-finance reports.
The party reported getting $10,000 from two campaign funds controlled by 14th Ward boss Ed Burke, while John Daley’s 11th Ward Democrats contributed $2,000.
In June, the county party organization got $25,000 from Toni Preckwinkle, the County Board president who’s also 4th Ward committeeman and an executive vice chairman of the county Democrats.
But 1st Ward Ald. and Committeeman Proco Joe Moreno says he won’t give a dime. He noted that Berrios, Kaplan and other county party officials helped a candidate who tried to unseat him in the committeeman’s race earlier this year.
In 2014, Moreno supported a successful challenger against Berrios’ daughter Toni, who had been a state representative.
“I have a strong, powerful, progressive ward organization,” Moreno said. “I don’t need to give money to his a– to work against me.”
Moreno said he’s considering running against Berrios for the chairman’s day job as county assessor.
Another committeeman, who asked not to be identified, said of Berrios, “Why give him money? I don’t understand. He hasn’t done anything for me.”
Berrios may manage to placate them. But the only person he really must be sure to please is the true boss — the state party chairman and Illinois House speaker, Mike Madigan.
If the fundraising request had come from Madigan, there’s little doubt all 80 committeemen would pull out their checkbooks as quickly as the Erie Cafe’s waiters hustle to serve Berrios.